New things in familiar places



Kelpies were mythical water horses which could transform into humans. However, artist Andy Scott also based his work on the heavy horses which supplied the industry of the area including drawing the barges on the adjacent Forth & Clyde canal. Duke, the downward-looking Kelpie is 26.5m high and Baron, the upward-looking one is 30m high.

I remember heavy horses still being used by a brewery in Stirling in the 1970s. We lived in Falkirk for a year in the 1960s and I have not really been back since. The Kelpies were completed in 2013 and I have driven past them on the M9 but this was the first time we paused to walk around them. On a cold winter morning with the snow-covered Ochil Hills in the background, they were not busy at all.

We had spent the previous largely grey and wet day driving to Perthshire with only a few breaks in the weather. At Tebay, the ducks, resplendent in their breeding plumage, looked as if they were walking on water as just below the surface it was still frozen. On the north slopes of Shap the sun appeared briefly, and a rainbow stretched over the motorway. For once we were passing our usual turn-offs to Edinburgh and continuing north into Perthshire where I grew up. Just before Doune we stopped off at Deanston Distillery for the obligatory photograph and sampling. My clarinet teacher was from Doune. I played in the county wind band and in the early 1970s, some of us played at the wedding of Lord Doune’s daughter which took place in the medieval castle. It has since become more well-known as it has been used in some films including Monty Python’s and Game of Thrones.

We drove back towards Dunblane on the road my school bus used to take. One of the farms we passed has now become a red kite viewing centre which will be worth a visit at some point. We were heading to Dunblane to spend a night in Cromlix House just north of the town. The name Cromlix has existed in various forms since the 15th century although there is evidence of human settlement on the site before this. The Chisholms, several of whom were bishops of Dunblane before the reformation had a castle on the site as late as 1723. A marriage in the 16th century introduced the Drummond name which became Drummond Hay in 1739. A later marriage brought the estate into the Eden family who still own much of it, a reminder that only 500 people own most of the land in Scotland. The hotel is in what was initially built as ‘Cromlix Cottage’ in 1874. It was destroyed by fire and in 1880 was rebuilt. There is no sweeping staircase in keeping with the ‘cottage’ theme. The house was enlarged between 1880 and 1903. It was converted into a hotel in 1981 and we spent the first night of our honeymoon there in May 1987. It closed in 2012 but in the following year was purchased by Andy Murray and it opened again as five-star hotel in 2015. It has a Chez Roux restaurant and is situated in the hamlet of Kinbuck amongst the hills and woods that I love. Unfortunately the weather did not allow any wandering around them. It remained cold with snow and sleet showers during the rest of our weekend.

A wet weekend in Brighton


I had first visited Brighton a couple of years ago for work and James joined me for a day or so after the conference. We had both felt it warranted a second visit and booked this trip last autumn. It turned out to be a good time to be heading south rather than to Scotland with wintry weather blocking roads up there. On the day we arrived the University of Sussex were holding a graduation ceremony in the theatre near our hotel. There were many Chinese families taking photographs along the sea front. We did get a couple of breaks in the rain for a bracing walk on the mainly pebble beach in the late afternoon where the supports and the remains of the old West Pier are.


We spent some time wandering around the lanes where there are some chain stores but also many independent shops including some very quirky ones. One thing I did notice was that people we encountered in the hotel, cafes and shops were very friendly, unlike some other southern cities I have visited. Several years ago I stayed with a friend in Southampton in December and while she was at the university, I went into town to do some Christmas shopping. The only person who said anything more to me than the bare minimum to carry out the transaction was the Big Issue seller who was from Manchester.

Having visited the pavilion on our last trip, this time we explored the Museum and Art Gallery. It has a number of permanent galleries including one on 20th century furniture and art.

I was particularly struck by this lift compartment installed in Selfridges on Oxford Street, London in 1929. Designed by a French artist, Edgar Brandt and entitled ‘Les Cignones (storks) d’Alsace’ they remained in place until 1971 when they were removed because of new fire regulations.

There was a gallery devoted to Brighton in the 20th century with displays of mods and rockers who clashed on the seafront in 1964.

Other galleries contained their pottery, china and fine art collections, John Pipers aquatints of Brighton, performance and toys, youth projects in Brighton with youngsters from different countries exploring their culture and traditional costume including New Ireland, Myanmar, Peru, Canada and Alaska and Mali. There is also a collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts and the Museum of Transology.

All too soon it was time to head for home. Had it been drier I would have liked to walk the Undercliff Path which heads east for 3km and also to explore the huge amount of street art in the city including a Banksy.

Pop up Pop Art in Chester


Chester Visual Arts has had a free exhibition of 1960s Pop Art prints from the V&A collection on since the end of July. It finishes on Sunday and today, the Cheshire Art Fund had organised a pop up lecture on Pop Art by Adrian Sumner. This was a good excuse to get on the train and learn a little more about it. We had visited the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh last summer but my art studies at school did not venture beyond the end of the 19th century and a lot of the modern art I have studied since has been abstract modernism. The exhibition was of prints with some textiles and wallpaper. Photography was not allowed. After a bit of shopping, I returned for the lecture. Adrian covered a lot of material. I learnt that Eduardo Paolozzi produced some early Pop Art in the 1940s and 1950s. I know him mainly for his later sculpture (and looked after some of his relatives when I worked in Edinburgh 30 years ago) so it was interesting to discover some of his other works. Adrian took us through from the earliest days to modern artists in both Europe and the USA. As he has been a lecturer in art I was a little surprised that he went on for over 75 minutes (I left before the end at this point) and did not encourage audience participation. Outside on Northgate Street there are some three dimensional works. This sculpture was installed in 1992 as a celebration of Chester’s 900th anniversary celebrations.

There was also this baby elephant called Janya which means ‘life’ in Hindi sculpted by Annette Yarrow in 2010. She grew up in India in the 1930s and 1940s and this sculpture was a gift to the city from the zoo. It chimed with my interest in natural history because the other day I was reading something which said that while there are clear morphological differences between Asian and African elephant (including ear size), it has now been discovered that there may be at least two species of African elephants, the Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) which look the same and are only distinguishable by DNA. A third species, the West African Elephant, has also been postulated.

On our way back to the station, we passed the cathedral which had this installation outside.

There was no notice to explain what it was and who created it and we did not have time to go inside and find out as we had a train to catch. I have used my art fund pass a lot, although this was the first local event I had been able to attend and they have been able to fund numerous artworks for the nation. Chester Visual Arts aims to establish a permanent contemporary arts centre in Chester and I wish them luck.

Ireland: Kilkenny and Carlow

We spent our last morning in the south exploring Kilkenny and Carlow before dropping our friends off at Dublin airport and heading north to spend a few days with relatives in North Antrim. Kilkenny has a lot of history with a medieval mile starting at the castle. The castle dates from 1192 having been constructed on the site of an earlier wooden structure but has been remodelled several times, most recently by the Butler family.

We did not tour inside but walked around the park surrounding the castle and the garden around the Dower House.


The park was busy with the Saturday Fun Run so we walked over to the Castle Yard which hosts the Design Centre and several craft studios. One display in the Design Centre Gallery called ‘Lustre’ was of jewellery produced by students based on the Faberge egg concept. They explored this theme and produce their own works encased in the egg. I also looked at some copper plate etchings as this is something I have planned to do at some point.

We looked in at some of the studios and found some ceramics we liked. After a coffee in the restaurant upstairs it was time to leave the tourists gathering outside the castle and return to the hotel for a cocktail (non-drivers only) and to digest the Irish Times before beginning our drive northeast to Carlow.

This is another town I had visited many years ago while working but I could remember little about it. Just as we were getting out of the car I met an elderly gentleman walking up the hill who paused just to take a breath. He told me that he was 88 and knew everything that there was to know about Carlow. He was keen to tell me that the river used to be bigger and have ‘really big’ boats on it. Now rowing seems to be the main waterborne activity. We walked over to the ruined castle

and then along the river path to the Millennium Bridge. Swans and a rook were keen to befriend us in case we had any food for them.


In the park ‘Bridging’ an installation containing works by teenagers on a 14-week project exploring life as a teenager in Carlow was on display.

This is one of the panels.

Carlow does have an art institute and walking back to the car, we passed some street art entitled ‘Wall R Us: is it a wall or is it us?’.

Having dropped our friends off at the airport we continued on the motorway to the border. Just north of Dublin we noted that we had driven 700 miles on this trip so far. There were still tractors on the motorway and the six-lane road it becomes across the border. Summer seemed to be ending as we made our way to North Antrim in rain. Fortunately this did not last and the sun and blue skies returned for the remainder of our trip.

Ireland: wandering about Cork


We began our day in Cork with coffee. The aim was to plan our day and this cafe near our hotel was very appropriate for me as a writer, reader and someone who does voluntary work in a bookshop.

It did not disappoint and Having topped up the caffeine levels, our first destination was Cork Old Gaol on the other side of the river. We took a slightly circuitous route along the Mardyke Riverside Pathway which is a tunnel of green. This is the Mardyke Bridge.

This part of path we were on is entirely within the city near the university. It took us past Cork Museum which is situated in a park with sculptures among the trees and plants. The museum is free to visit.

Our next destination was Cork Old Gaol which was closed in 1923. You can go on a guided tour or by yourself with an audio guide or guidebook. We chose the last option.


Some of the rooms have models and furnishing depicting life in the gaol and there are also displays about notable prisoners. If you wish, you can have your photograph taken in the stocks. Caffeine levels were topped up again at the cafe here before heading back towards the city centre. We were aiming for the Crawford Gallery but in the block on Lavitt’s Quay just west of it is Vibes and Scribes, a bookshop selling new, used and secondhand books. We found a few gems in the secondhand store. It also has a book group which meets weekly and an arts and craft store across the river in Bridge Street. At the Crawford Gallery which is also free to visit (donations are invited) we saw Harry Clarke’s drawings for stained glass windows entitled ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ and based on Keats’ poem.

The display also included two of his stained glass windows. We also watched Aideen Barry’s 2015 stop-motion film ‘Not to be known’ looking at the role of the ideal homemaker and working woman as she is seen by the media and enjoyed Danny McCarthy’s installation ‘Beyond silence: a bell rings in an empty sky’ is composed of ceramic and other bells he collected at car book sales and is on display until the end of August.

There is also a good collection of Irish artists’ work in both oil and water colours dating from the 18th to 21st centuries. We did not look at everything as we were beginning to flag and so wandered back towards the hotel picking up a late lunch at the indoor English Market in the city centre. One of the fish stalls had this large fish on display.

This evening we are off out for some food, drink and music which should not be hard to find in this great city where there is so much to choose from.

Ireland: Waterford to Cork

I experienced a first this morning in our Waterford Hotel: whisky on my porridge. There were other offerings including a whisky liqueur but I stuck to a small dash of the local hootch. Before leaving Waterford we visited Waterford Crystal to buy a gift and then wandered along the waterfront. This artwork was produced during one of the annual arts festivals and represents positive mental health. One of the hotel staff told us that the artist had started to paint, it had begun to rain but he continued, much to the amazement of everyone.

Back on the road we passed Dungarvan and then diverted via R674 to Helvick Head (Ceann Heilbhic in Irish). Irish Gaelic is still spoken in the community around here. Just before the end of the headland there is an old building which used to house some Turkish Baths. The nearby cafe now offers spa facilities. There is a short path which leads down to a small pebble beach where some families were enjoying the sun. There are also views over Dungarvan Bay.

There is a small harbour where one guy was fishing from the wall.

Just as we were about to leave, a fishing boat returned and was offering his scraps to the gulls who crowded around his boat. There were drifts of wildflowers and some crocosmia that had escaped from someone’s garden and was flourishing. Pollinators were feeding and I spotted this Painted Lady butterfly which is declining in number.

We sat outside the cafe enjoying our drinks while this Pied Wagtail hung around hoping for some crumbs.

All too soon it was time to return to the main road and continue towards Cork. I made a note that south of Youghal there is a large sandy beach and a bird reserve to visit on another occasion. Before we got to Middleton there was a long delay due to road works and then the satnav tried to send us down a pedestrian passageway in the middle to Cork when we were trying to find our hotel. We got there eventually and settled in to plan our exploration the following day.

Ireland: two days in Dublin


We had had a trip to Ireland with a couple of friends planned for several months. They arrived last Friday evening and we drove to Holyhead to catch the early afternoon ferry to Dublin on Saturday. The crossing was smooth and we managed to navigate our way to the hotel which is on the banks of the canal. We had a reservation at Chapter One, a Michelin starred restaurant in Parnell Square. I had eaten there many years before but none of the rest of the party had. Aside from being a little slow to take our order and one of us thinking their starter was uninteresting, it did not disappoint. The centre of Dublin was very busy as we took a taxi back to the hotel. On Sunday morning we had breakfast in a nearby cafe and then walked into town. We passed an interesting shop.

It made me wonder if my local hardware shop would consider branching out.
We had a look around the grounds of Trinity College but the Book of Kells exhibition needs to be booked in advance – the queue today was extremely long. We will visit the next time we are here in the autumn.

The next stop was Merrion Square which is described as Dublin’s prettiest. It has statues of a number of people including Oscar Wilde and is situated in the southern Georgian quarter.
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Later in the afternoon we walked along the canal and explored the National Art Gallery. We looked a the permanent collection which included many 16th and 17th century paintings and some more recent Irish ones plus some stained glass. There was an exhibition of the work of Margaret Clarke, a 20th century artist that I was not familiar with. We also saw the exhibition of the work of Vermeer and his contemporaries in the Netherlands who influenced him. Fortunately it was not as busy as the exhibition we saw in London the previous weekend. In the stairwell were these 1996 paintings of Felim Egan entitled ‘The Four Seasons’.

After a couple of drinks including the obligatory Guinness in the Ha’penny Bridge Inn to escape the rain, it was time for dinner. Tonight we were dining at the Winding Stair Restaurant. It is on the banks of the Liffey and on the ground floor is one of Ireland’s oldest independent bookshops – The Winding Stair Bookshop. Unfortunately as it was Sunday, it was closed. This meal was very enjoyable (we even sampled some Irish haggis) and finished off the evening well. I have made several notes of other places to explore on future trips.